Painkiller Abuse Epidemic Grows

Never let it be said we West Virginians are not trend setters. It appears a craze – and that may be the appropriate word – that originated here is spreading throughout the United States.

Abuse of prescription painkillers has occurred for decades. But it became an epidemic a few years ago in southern West Virginia. Now the scourge has spread throughout the United States, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Distribution of oxycodone throughout the country has exploded since 2000, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The substance is used in pain pills including OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan. Distribution of hydrocodone, used in Vicodin and other medicines, also is increasing.

In 2010, pharmacies sold enough oxycodone and hydrocodone to give 40 5-mg Percocet pills and 24 5-mg Vicodins to every man, woman and child in the United States, the AP found.

Dealing in pain pills has become a lucrative business, infiltrating even some law enforcement agencies. Earlier this year, two former Transportation Security Administration officers admitted they were part of a painkiller ring. The TSA officers facilitated drug shipments through airports.

While misuse of painkillers has become a national epidemic, West Virginia still seems to be ground zero, at least in terms of illegal activity.

During the first quarter of this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia has handled several cases involving a local ring that obtained painkillers in Florida and brought them here for sale. Three Moundsville residents and a Triadelphia man are among those who have admitted involvement.

Authorities in the Sunshine State are taking a bite out of the Florida connection, however. At one time, doctors could sell painkillers out of their offices. From 2010-11, after the practice was outlawed, the number of pain pills sold by Florida doctors dropped by 97 percent.

In this area, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have done an excellent job of cracking down on painkiller abuse. They should continue to make that a priority for use of both manpower and financial resources.